THE VICTORIAN PLAYBOY                 Johnnie Walmesley of the Hall of Ince


The Walmesley family were in Wigan since the late 1600’s living at Higher Barn, Hindley. According to Burke’s Landed Gentry, they originally came from Blackburn but I have found nothing definitive as of yet. In 1716, John Walmesley of Higher Barn purchased the ‘Hall of Ince’ from Richard Gerard. A generation later, Richard’s cousins went on to inherit the remaining Gerard holdings in Ince with one of the sisters, Mary, marrying a John Walmesley from Showley near Blackburn where they both settled at Westwood House in the 1750’s until their descendants moved to Berkshire 1893. Ironically, both lines appear unrelated and separated not only by religion but by just half a mile between the properties whilst sharing the same surname and hailing from the same “neck of the woods”. There is no correspondence between the two nor any newspaper articles where they shared the same space.

Owning a title such as the ‘Hall of Ince’ provided the family with great wealth and status which led them to do what many others did by buying property across the country and eventually moving down south. I don’t believe any Walmesley had lived at the Hall of Ince from around 1750, moving to Bath and London and leaving the estate in the hands of their land agents, latterly Elias Dorning & Morrison. The industrial boom at this time allowed many landowners to take rents & leases whilst not being directly involved.

Hall of Ince 1914 - courtesy Rev. David Long

Johnnie Walmesley

Johnnie Walmesley was born in the year 1861 in Chelsea and only son of Richard & Ann Eliza Walmesley (Donaldson). Johnnie was brought up on the family estate at Lucknam Park, Colerne, purchased by his father in the early 1870’s. Also constructed was a family vault that later became part of Colerne Church, practically next door with Richard becoming ‘High Sheriff of Wiltshire' in 1877 and ‘Justice of the Peace’. Johnnie was trained in the ways of business being the heir to the estate by his father and a coming-of-age party was held at Lucknam in August 1882 and reciprocated at the Ince Public Hall where he was presented with a silver service. 

The beginning of his own lack of responsibility came when he met a teenager named Lydia Rose Powell in London and produced a daughter named Lydia Eve Powell in December 1887. This would be seen as irresponsible to his parents which led Johnnie to marrying a lady already from a landed family named Violet Haworth-Booth on the 4th December 1889 who hailed from Haworth Hall, Hull. His father, Richard, had threatened to leave Johnnie out of the Will if he didn’t find somebody “appropriate”. The remainder of the wedding was spent in the south of France and one year later their son Richard Walmesley was born. However, it appears Violet was not happy with her husband’s conduct during the marriage and filed for divorce in 1893 based upon cruelty & adultery.

“The husband spent much time away, would not speak or interact, and would not share the same room even after the honeymoon. He would never go out with her and when they met he would turn aside”. A witness from Baker St, London, stated that from 1888 to December 1890, he was living with a lady, who was not the petitioner. Violet was given custody of the only child of the marriage, a boy, who was not about 3 and a half years old. John appealed the decision regarding the outcome of son Richard from his divorce with Violet and described how “it was his intention to leave the property to his son, and he desired that the son should become familiarised with the estate”.

What we now know is that Johnnie was still seeing Lydia Rose Powell whilst married to Violet. On the 1891 census he declared he was living at York Terrace, Marylebone, London, and listed a wife and daughter however the names were not filled in. It has been proved that he was residing with his first love Lydia Rose Powell and their daughter Lydia Eve. How much could he have paid the returns officer for covering his tracks?

Father Richard passed away in May 1893 leaving the management of the greater estate to his wife, Ann Eliza, who passed away in 1905 leaving the estate in the hands of their only son. Within the Will of Richard, it specifically contains the following: -

‘The Adoration of the Magi’, by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686), left to son Johnnie Walmesley.

‘The Adoration of the Magi’, by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686), left to son Johnnie Walmesley.

Previously in 1856 an original dating from 1633-1634 was purchased from the Sir Archibald McLellan Collection for the Glasgow Museum and another exists at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, dated 1635 belonging to the Duke of Marlborough. Another dated 1649 was purchased by ‘The National Gallery’ in 1990 and finally one more at Burghley House, Peterborough, purchased in 1681 by the Earl of Exeter. The painting is also known as ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ which could appear confusing. I wonder whatever came of this version held by Johnnie Walmesley?

In 1896 Lydia Rose passed away and left £4521 to Johnnie. Violet re-married in 1903 to Admiral Arthur Wartensieben Ewart with her son Richard now aged 13. He joined the Yorkshire Regiment having resides in Hull and became a lieutenant in 1912. He was killed by sniper fire on 21st October 1914, aged 23, and buried at Aeroplane Cemetery, Belgium. This would represent the end of the line for his Walmesley paternal line. Lydia Eve spent much time with her father after her own mothers passing in expensive rounds of hunting meetings throughout the south and west. They rented houses and entertained and kept the necessary horses and attendant staff to take part in “the pursuit of the inedible”.

Lydia Rose Powell Probate Entry

Lieu Richard Walmesley (1890-1914) October 1914 (back row second in from right).

Lieu Richard Walmesley (1890-1914)

Johnnie would earlier become the ‘High Sheriff of Wiltshire’ in 1909 whilst living at Lucknam Park. On the 1911 census he is residing at the Hotel Russell, London, alongside his daughter Lydia Eve who two years previously had changed her name by ‘Deed Poll’ by removing the name Powell and replacing it with Walmesley. Today the hotel Is called ‘The Kimpton Fitzroy’. Lydia married in this year to a “master of cotton” at Clifton College named Reginald Burnett Garrett and produced six children. Johnnie would re-marry in the same year to a Belgian lady named Marie Bernard in the same parish, Marylebone.

According to the existing family and recited by Simon Garrett’s article of 1995 produced for the ‘Colerne History Group’, Marie was described as “a young Belgian who was very kind to Lydia Eve and apparently loved by the staff of the estate and household”. They divorced in 1925 with Marie passing away in 1931. Her Will left personal effects to her ex-husband.

Johnnie was attempting to sell the Lucknam Park Estate on a few occasions and finally was sold to shipbuilder Sir Alfred Reid in 1925. Reid had bought a larger part of the estate back in 1918 before flogging it one year later. John had previously “sold or given away household effects since 1918” whilst living in France aiming to reduce expenditure whilst keeping the family accumulation of land and renting them out accordingly. Pearson & Knowles of Ince, Wigan, rented such land for coal mining which saw the Walmesley’s incur great wealth. Today Ince suffers great subsidence such as the flashes due to shallow mining for good coal and poor mining practices.

Johnnie married for a third time in 1926 at the age of 65 to Claudia D’Avenarius (Russian) in Paris, France. John was described as “being under a spell of both sisters (Claudia and Vera) who were not well liked and used him for his money and position. Claudia already had a son named Alexis who took the surname of Johnnie becoming Alexis Walmesley de Sedkoff who died in Cornwall, 1973”.

Johnnie & Claudia, 1924.

 Alexis Michael Walmesley de Sedkoff.

Back in 1918 he took the sisters over to settle in France whilst still “married” to Marie. All of the Walmesley family properties were known as ‘Hall of Ince Estate’ and Trustees were agreed on 27 July 1927 two of which were his land agents Elias Dorning & Morrison.

Johnnie Walmesley passed away on 9th January 1937 in Saint-Germain-En-Laye, France, leaving one daughter Lydia Eve Garrett. According to Probate he left £12,053 which equates to around £615,000 today. “He left his entire estate to his sister-in-law Vera, who died in 1976. The Will does not mention leaving anything for his daughter Lydia or son-in-law Alexis”.

1 rue d'Alger, St. Germain

John Walmesley (1861-1937) Probate.

The Garrett’s are still around today and the Walmesley Vault at Colerne is still populated. It is sad to note that Johnnie Walmesley’s ashes were brought back from France after the war in 1949 and represents a simple cardboard box within the vault.  An instruction contained with his Will goes as follows: -

“I bequeath all my private papers, letters, and documents to my Executors upon trust to examine the same and to destroy all of them except such of them as they may consider it necessary or proper to keep and I declare that it shall be in their entire discretion whether to show or disclose the same or the contents thereof to any other person.”  

It appears he shunned his father’s duties & responsibilities as the local squire and continued on with his lavish lifestyle after his father’s death. Johnnie was seen by the family to be “frittering the fortune on slow horses and fast women”.

The Walmesley line disappeared with the death of Johnnie’s son Richard in WWI and continues on through Lydia Eve’s marriage to the Garrett’s.  

Property and Rents in Lancashire

Andy Lomax

The Village on the Hill, Aspects of Colerne history Vol.2 (Simon Garrett) 1995    Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard 28th April 1894
Bath Chronicle 3rd May 1894 
Burghley Collections

* The email will not be published on the website.